I’m a perfectionist, from a long line of perfectionists. It’s one of my family’s inter-generational sins. Normally I manage to keep it relatively under wraps, but every so often (often when I have to do something I haven’t done before, and so am particularly incompetent at) it rears its ugly head. Turns out I can’t deal with failure. It turns me into some sort of feral, shame-driven beast-thing, mostly made up of teeth and claws that I’ll use to destroy myself, or anyone unwise enough to point out my failings.
My perfectionism is grounded in unholy things – need for human approval, fear of rejection, pride – but often, when I start to try and disentangle myself from it, I find that ‘God’ gets in the way (He’s got inverted commas there because I suspect it’s my ideas about Him, rather than God Himself, that are the problem…as is so often the case). If the way to escape perfectionism is to ‘learn to be average’, what does that mean for (for example) ‘whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men’?
I’m not sure what the full answer is. Probably there’s something to be said for pointing out that a perfectionistic motivation for working means working ‘as working for’ others’ approval, for worldly success, for my own pride etc. etc. – for anyone and anything, that is, except ‘for the Lord’. Probably there’s also something to be said for realising that perfectionism is not the same as ‘working with all your heart’. Perfectionism is not about needing to put in even perfect motivation or effort; it’s about the need to achieve perfect results, regardless of how much effort you’ve put in.
I’m sure there’s a lot more to be said. I’m not even nearly there on dealing with my perfectionism. I feel like a some-time alcoholic: I’m only a recovering perfectionist, not an ex-perfectionist, and sometimes I wonder whether ex-perfectionists exist. One thing I do know, though: thinking about how Paul calls Christians ‘jars of clay’, I’m reassured. The Bible’s model for us is less shiny, powerful success-story; more a drab, somewhat fragile, average-Joe. What sets us apart is the treasure inside us, and that treasure is a gift: its glorious perfection is not something my own effort could ever achieve, or could ever tarnish. So now I’m trying to learn to be what the Bible says I already am: a (very average) jar of clay.